SARATOGA SPRINGS - Without Preakness and Haskell winner Lookin At Lucky, the 3-year-old division's undisputed leader, Saturday's $1-million Travers Stakes appears to be wide open. As Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Trappe Shot, said, "It looks like there are seven horses who could win it."
Trainer Leon Blusiewicz would include Admiral Alex in that group, even though he'll be making only his second career start. After the son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex won at 11/8 miles by a length July 31 at Saratoga, Blusiewicz began dreaming big about a colt he also owns.
He calls him "a special horse" and the best he's had in 37 years of training. "I got a race over the track," Blusiewicz told the Daily Racing Form. "He did something none of these other horses did. He went a mile and an eighth first time out and won."
Admiral Alex didn't run as a 2-year-old because of an illness, an ankle injury and a bone cyst on a leg. Blusiewicz gave him seven months off until mid-June, when he began a series of nine workouts, all at Saratoga. Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux will ride him again and said he loves the way he's training.
The 141st Travers doesn't shape up as a vintage renewal, but Admiral Alex still would have to improve significantly to win it. Tony Dutrow, who trains the 7-2 morning-line favorite, A Little Warm, sounded skeptical when asked about his inexperienced opponent.
Said Dutrow: "He has a steep mountain to climb."
Blinkers for First Dude
Trainers often put blinkers on horses to improve their early speed, but that's not why First Dude will wear them for the first time in the Travers. Getting to the front was no problem for him in the Preakness, Belmont and the Haskell. He led most of the way in each before finishing second, third and third, respectively.
Dale Romans hopes the equipment known as the "rogue's badge" will help First Dude concentrate better when his pursuers come to him in the stretch.
"We're not putting a big cup on; it's a half cup," Romans said. "[Jockey Ramon Dominguez] said it helps him focus on accelerating when he calls on him. It's frustrating. We're trying to think of things different. The blinkers took a lot of consideration before doing it."
First Dude has earned $562,160 despite winning only once - a mile allowance in late January at Gulfstream Park - in nine tries. The Travers will be his sixth consecutive Grade I.
"I'm afraid to put him in a non-winners-of-two allowance and he loses at 1-9," Romans joked. "As long as he's competitive, I'm going to keep him in these races. We're waiting for him to break through and win one of these babies."
Beware of 'Trappe'
Trappe Shot might have the most upside of the Travers' 11 runners. Last time out was his first attempt in a graded stakes, and he finished second in the Haskell, four lengths behind Lookin At Lucky. It would be no surprise to see Trappe Shot move forward and win.
"He had all kinds of trouble at Monmouth and still hung in there," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "A mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter is no big deal."
Travers on MSG Plus
MSG Plus, in partnership with the New York Racing Association, will televise the King's Bishop Stakes and the Travers live Saturday from 5-6 p.m. NYRA handicappers Jason Blewitt, Eric Donovan and Andy Serling will provide commentary.
Travers prediction: Trappe Shot
Trappe Shot is a rising star who put up a good fight when second to the outstanding Lookin At Lucky in the Haskell. Has the tactical speed to sit off a likely strong pace and get first run on the closers. Afleet Express had a rough trip when third to A Little Warm in the Jim Dandy and should improve. A Little Warm benefited from a perfect trip in the Jim Dandy and might have stamina issues.